Kill All Comics!

Before slasher films, rap music and internet porn, even before rock ‘n’ roll, self-righteous America found cause for juvenile delinquency in comic books. Columbia journalism professor and former Entertainment Weekly editor David Hajdu unearths the largely forgotten 1950s campaign against illustrated pulp and discovers larger issues of censorship and Puritanical scape-goating that continue in one form or another to this day. Hajdu, whose previous book Positively 4th Street explored the dysfunctional side of modern folk music (after reading it, we ended up disliking Dylan even more), traces the rise of comics from its birth as a newspaper marketing tool used to build readership among lower and immigrant classes to its position as leading culture medium in the pre-television world. As cold war paranoia reached its zenith, alarmist forces armed with dubious studies accused often seamy crime and horror comics of putting the wrong ideas in young people’s heads. Boycotts, comic burnings, Senate hearings and a standards code followed. Hajdu’s meticulous research and engaging story-telling reflects on larger culture issues relevant to this day. He suggests that the work of the comic book creators—many were literally children when they started—whose genre was killed off by establishment of the Comics Code are the forefathers of post World War II pop culture. A must for cultural warriors and comic fans; the epilogue’s interview with Robert Crumb is worth the price of the book. Subtext: Hajdu explains how pulling up on the free reins of comic books led to one of America’s great cultural icons: Mad magazine.—Cabbage Rabbit